The first step of a formal investigation into the residency status of Bloomington city council candidate David Wolfe Bender has now been taken.
At its regular meeting on Thursday, the three-member Monroe County election board voted unanimously on a motion that concluded that there is enough reason to believe that an election law has been violated, to set a hearing “at the earliest possible time” after witnesses have been notified they have to appear.
The board was acting Thursday on a complaint brought by Monroe County Republican Party vice chair William Ellis, which was based on an Indiana Daily Student article published on Feb. 17, 2023.
The headline to the IDS piece describes the basic idea of the complaint: City Council candidate David Wolfe Bender is running in District 6, residents say he doesn’t live there.
As a practical matter, the Feb. 10 deadline for withdrawing from the primary has passed. That’s also the deadline for someone to challenge a candidate’s residency claim.
So Bender will appear on the ballot as the sole candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for District 6 city council, which means he will win the primary election.
There is no Republican candidate for the primary. There’s still a possibility for the Republican Party to add a candidate to the November ballot through a caucus. The deadline for that is July 3.
When Ellis addressed the election board on Thursday, he acknowledged that the deadline for making a primary election ballot challenge has passed. But given the allegations in the IDS article, Ellis told the board, “I think it needs to be investigated to find out exactly whether it’s true or not.”
Ellis continued, “They’re alleging that city council candidate David Wolfe Bender, running in District 6 does not live where he says he lives.” Ellis added, “And if he did misrepresent his address…I think it’s a Level 6 felony under Indiana code.”
The article published in the IDS was the basis of Ellis’s complaint. The IDS reported that Bender said he had a signed lease for 304 E. 16th Street.
But on Thursday, election board chair Garletts added some additional information, based on correspondence he had received form the owner of the property at 304 E. 16th Street—the address to which Bender changed his voter registration.
Garletts said, “I have email correspondence from both the tenants of 304 East 16th and the owner. The owner says, ‘I have no knowledge of David Wolfe Bender living at 304 East 16th now or in the future,’ and signed his name.”
Garletts also said he had provided copies of one page of the lease he had received from the tenants of the property, which Garletts said shows that Bender is not a current tenant. Garletts added that the current tenants and the owner have confirmed to him that the same tenants have re-signed for the 2023-2024 school year.
The three-member board is made up of: the county clerk, Democrat Nicole Browne; a Republican Party appointee, Donovan Garletts; and a Democratic Party appointee, David Henry. Henry, who is the Monroe County Democratic Party chair, is serving as an interim replacement to the board, after Shruti Rana resigned in order to run for Bloomington city council.
In his deliberations on Thursday, Henry focused on the due process that has to be followed. “I very much would like to get to a place where we could answer some of the questions we have—there are clearly more questions and answers,” Henry said.
To get to the place of getting questions answered, Henry asked Molly Turner-King, the county attorney who advises the election board, to outline what the statutory obligations the board had to fulfill, given the nature of the complaint that Ellis had made.
Turner-King walked the board through the relevant election law [IC 3-6-5-31].
IC 3-6-5-31 Election law violations; investigation; action by board
Sec. 31. If a county election board determines that there is substantial reason to believe an election law violation has occurred, it shall expeditiously make an investigation. If in the judgment of the board, after affording due notice and an opportunity for a hearing, a person has engaged or is about to engage in an act or practice that constitutes or will constitute a violation of a provision of this title or of a rule or order issued under this title, the board shall take the action it considers appropriate under the circumstances, including referring the matter to the attorney general or the appropriate prosecuting attorney.
What the board decided on Thursday was to move ahead with an investigation, but did not set the date of a hearing.
To give itself a bit of extra flexibility to reconvene and set a hearing, the board recessed its Thursday meeting instead of adjourning it. As soon as the board has decided who will be subpoenaed, and what evidence would be requested, the board wants to vote on setting a hearing date.
As Turner-King pointed out, because no time for the resumption of the meeting was given, the board will still have to give 48-hour notice to the public before coming out of recess.
At one point on Thursday, Henry asked about the possibility of withdrawal: “If for some reason, the candidate withdrew, would we still have to go through the academic exercise of holding an investigation, or does that interrupt the process?”
Turner-King told Henry: “I can look into that. I don’t know what would happen if the candidate withdrew at this point.”
While withdrawing from the primary race is not an option—because the Feb. 10 deadline has passed—after the primary election is over, and the nominees are certified, a nominee can withdraw from the November municipal election. That’s a bit of background provided at Thursday’s meeting by deputy clerk Tressia Martin.
The deadline for a nominee to withdraw from the November ballot is July 15, which this year is a Saturday. That means the deadline for withdrawal this year is July 17. [IC 3-8-7-28]
There are two kinds of residency requirements for city councils in Indiana. One is a durational requirement for residency, ahead of the November municipal election. The other requirement is judged at the time of the deadline for declaring a candidacy in a primary.
Here’s the durational requirement: [IC 3-8-1-27]
IC 3-8-1-27 Common council member
Sec. 27. A candidate for membership on common council of a second or third class city must:
(1) have resided in the city for at least one (1) year; and
(2) have resided in the district in which seeking election, if applicable, for at least six (6) months; before the election.
Here’s the voter registration-in-a-district requirement [IC 3-8-1-1]
IC 3-8-1-1 Candidates must be registered voters
(a) This section does not apply to a candidate for any of the following offices:
(1) Judge of a city court.
(2) Judge of a town court.
(b) A person is not qualified to run for:
(1) a state office;
(2) a legislative office;
(3) a local office; or
(4) a school board office;
unless the person is registered to vote in the election district the person seeks to represent not later than the deadline for filing the declaration or petition of candidacy or certificate of nomination.
This year, the deadline for having registered to vote somewhere inside the relevant district was noon, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
It’s the second of the requirements that is at the center of the allegation against Bender. The IDS reported that Bender’s voter registration is, in fact, at the address listed.
So one of the questions to be investigated by the election board is how to reconcile his voter registration at an address where he does not appear to live, or have clear near-term prospects of living.
Maps of residency for Bloomington council candidates
(based on addresses in official filings)
5 thoughts on “Residency of District 6 Bloomington city council candidate to be investigated by election board”
This is another example of the double stupid liberal morons who have the elected the Biden Family crime enterprise to the highest level of our government. And because he is running for a city council seat he just needs only one more vote to win the seat.
i still hope this is a regular student-type rental snafu, merely an instance of the perennial question “where tf am i gonna live next semester?” and that Bender will sort it out and get ahold of an appropriate lease within the district. i hope the board is not unduly uptight about the details once that happens.
As predicted by other people with more knowledgeable than I, the redistricting of Council District 6 is turning out to be a problem. But it’s a much bigger problem than they thought. They were thinking the winner would be elected with only 50 votes, not that there would be only one candidacy and that one candidacy would be potentially fraudulent.
Let’s hope in nine or ten years the redistricting process goes better than it did this time.
I hope someone talks with this candidate to see what he has to say before a legal hearing is held
The IDS talked to him in the referenced article, although it certainly didn’t seem to clarify things any.